French automobile design has always been quirky, and that’s being kind. Other synonyms that come to mind are weird, exotic, and odd. But French cars have always been highly efficient. Say what you will about the look of Citroen DS series cars, they were big and comfortable and happy to gobble up hundreds of kilometers of asphalt on demand.
In the ’20s and ’30s, automakers built rolling chassis complete with engines, transmissions, brakes, and steering gear, then shipped them to specialty coachbuilders like Fisher or Mulliner to be fitted with handcrafted bodywork.
Today’s electric cars are especially suited to the same approach. Companies can design a so-called skateboard that includes all the parts needed to make a car go, stop, and steer, and then allow other company’s to fit different bodies on top. Canoo has fully embraced the idea. It even calls the bodies that sit on its EV platform “top hats.”
In some distant time, people might actually be able to swap the bodies on their cars to suit different needs — a sedan for daily driving, a minivan for soccer practice, a pickup truck for hauling building materials, or a sporty 2-seater for a backroad foliage adventure.
Recently, Citroen has introduced the Ami, a battery electric car for urban driving priced at €6000. Yeah, it looks goofy (so does the Renault Twizy) but if form follows function, it is a beautiful thing when used for its intended purposes. Now it has followed that up with Skate, an electric car skateboard designed to be fitted with a variety of bodies to meet the needs of a whole spectrum of drivers.
The most interesting feature of the Skate platform, according to Autocar, is that it offers full Level 5 autonomy, making it the perfect platform for transportation as a service duties. It can be operated with no human input “almost continuously” for 24 hours by charging itself at dedicated hubs.
Citroën CEO Vincent Cobée recently highlighted the importance of electric cars for urban mobility in the post-Covid era. “We believe that this new concept can redefine the framework of urban mobility: shared, electric and autonomous. With the solution we are presenting in partnership with Accor and JCDecaux, we are inventing autonomous mobility for all.”
The Skate has a maximum speed of either 3 mph or 16 mph depending on its surroundings, and is equipped with Citroen’s Advanced Comfort hydraulic cushion suspension for optimum ride quality. Bespoke motorized spherical wheels designed by Goodyear allow for 360 degree maneuverability “just like a computer mouse.” Talk about automobiles as rolling computers!
It has been designed to accommodate interchangeable travel “pods” from a variety of providers that offer different approaches to the concept of ride sharing. Citroen says the pods can be swapped in just 10 seconds. By separating the pods from the platform, Citroen claims it can “maximize the use of autonomous technology while expanding service offerings.”
Bring On The Weirdness!
The Pullman Power Fitness pod (above) is essentially a mobile exercise room comprising a rowing machine, an exercise bike and a digital coach that’s displayed on a holographic screen.
Accor’s Sofitel en Voyage pod (above) is inspired by the eponymous hotel chain, featuring sleek wooden surfaces, a dedicated luggage compartment, a bar, mood lighting, and a touchscreen.
JCDecaux, meanwhile, has focused on the “on-demand” aspect of mobility services with its City Provider pod (above). Said to be “accessible to all users,” the “functional” pod offers the quickest routes through the city and comes equipped with USB chargers and interactive screens to “enhance the mobility experience.”
Citroen says the Skate concept can improve traffic fluidity by 35%. Whether that is enough to make this concept a workable platform for the real world is something that remains to be seen.
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